September 2010


Six months ago, goosemedia suggested I read Start with Why, by Simon Sinek. It’s a book that analyzes the success of companies like Southwest Airlines and Apple and the success of leaders like Martin Luther King. All of them started with their WHY — the cause or reason for their existence — before figuring out their HOW or WHAT.

Let me use one of Sinek’s examples to illustrate his point. In the early parts of the 20th century, a small handful of companies dominated the railroad industry. They seemed invincible. But they defined themselves by WHAT they did rather than WHY. If they had defined themselves as being in the mass transportation business, Sinek says, those big railroad companies might own all the airlines today. Instead, someone else stole the opportunity while they became irrelevant. I was just reading last week that both United Airlines and Continental Airlines had their roots in postal transportation. I suspect that those early aviation companies articulated their WHY in terms of fast and reliable delivery, so they were able to easily make the jump to flying people instead of packages. I would argue that those two companies have now defined themselves by their WHAT, but I’m watching their potential merger with interest.

In contrast, take this statement from Colleen Barrett, former CEO of Southwest Airlines: “We’re a customer service company that just happens to fly airplanes.” The way Sinek puts it is: “Southwest was not built to be an airline. It was built to champion a cause. They just happened to use an airline to do it.”

I recently heard Wycliffe USA’s president observe with amusement that our partners view SIL, Wycliffe and The Seed Company as leaders in orality. Remarkable considering where we were only a few years ago. Our WHAT has long been printed Bibles. That’s what people picture when they hear “Bible translation.” But Wycliffe has a clear WHY: to give this generation access to God’s Word, and to do it because we desire God to be glorified among the nations and because the last, the lost and the least deserve just as much as we do to know the God who created them speaks their language. We’re also about the transformation that happens as a result of God’s Word. As long as we’re about WHY, then we’ll embrace new media and new methods quickly and effectively in our hunger to accomplish that purpose.

Do you know your WHY? Do you know it on an organizational level? Do you know it on a personal level?

I heard an interesting description of a leader a while ago: leaders create heroes. Now, there’s no sense in creating heroes out of celebrities. Too many people already do that, to their detriment. Instead, leaders notice the little guy and elevate him to heroic status.

I’ve been fascinated recently with the fact that breakthroughs don’t usually happen to individuals alone. There’s often another person involved, and it’s the synergy of their giftings that creates the breakthrough. Some get headlines together. Hewlett and Packard go together like peanut butter and jelly. Paul and Barnabas are like love and marriage. But they are the exceptions. Most often, one gets all the headlines while the other’s contribution goes unnoticed. Following with my last post on acknowledging those who make silent contributions, I want to spend a few minutes heralding “the other guy.”

The other Steve

A 25-year-old engineer at Hewlett-Packard, Steve Wozniak was using his spare time to design a language interpreter for a new 8-bit microprocessor called the MOS 6502. But even though the motherboard he created was smaller and less complex than other kits on the market, and even though Wozniak gave away the schematics for free, hobbyists still found the board difficult to build. So Woz and his high school pal Steve Jobs, who was working at Atari, decided to sell preassembled boards—which they dubbed the Apple I. They built them at night in Jobs’ parents’ garage, paying Jobs’ sister $1 a board to insert chips. In 1976, they produced 200 units and sold 150 of them for $500 apiece. (From WIRED magazine, courtesy of Creative Leadership by Tony Kim)

The Bible translation promoter

L.L. Legters was a Presbyterian minister who served among Comanche Indians, then on the east coast, and then as an itinerant speaker at church mission conferences. He made trips throughout South America in order to document the spiritual needs of language groups, challenging churches back home to pray and to act on their behalf. In 1921, he spoke to a Cakchiquel Indian audience at a Bible conference in Guatemala. Translating for him was Cameron Townsend. The two men got along well. Townsend told Legters of his passion for Guatemala’s distinct language groups. Legters, in turn, amazed Townsend by reporting about the hundreds of unevangelized language groups which he had seen and heard about in South and Central America alone — none of whom had a single page of God’s Word. He also mentioned the countless unreached groups reportedly living in other parts of the world. The two men talked and prayed about the obvious need for thousands of new Bible translations. By faith, they determined to do something about this pressing need.

Townsend agreed to work on a Cakchiquel translation of the New Testament, keenly aware that he lacked academic preparation for work in the field of linguistics. Legters agreed to promote the cause of unreached peoples and to raise money for Townsend’s Cakchiquel translation project at church mission conferences back in the United States. In the process of keeping his part of the bargain, Legters set up a new organization called the “Pioneer Mission Agency,” the roots of Wycliffe Bible Translators. (From The Network for Strategic Missions)

Both Wozniak and Legters fell to the side as their charasmatic, innovative partners grew in renown. But Apple and Wycliffe could not have become what they’ve become without their solid contribution. So, here’s to the small people!

What about the theological belief that the Holy Spirit empowers believers and gives spiritual gifts to all who know him? In John 16, Jesus unpacks the Holy Spirit for the disciples he leaves behind, promising that they’ll be even better off with God-as-Spirit than with God-in-human-form.

Certainly, the idea that the Holy Spirit works in and flows through a leader has implications on a leader’s role. Many have written on this subject. In fact, our leadership book discussion group at Wycliffe is getting ready to read Bill Hybels’ The Power of a Whisper. I may have more to say about the leader’s need for discernment and his role in “drafting the Holy Spirit” after I’ve read that book. Instead, I want to focus for a minute on another question.

What does it mean for a leader that every believer has spiritual gifts? It means all followers are empowered. First, leaders must listen to their followers, because the Holy Spirit might speak through a prophetic gift or someone with a gift that complements the leader’s blind spot. Second, leadership is just one part of the body. Just because there are fewer heads than fingers doesn’t mean the head is more important or any less needed. That’s hard for most leaders to believe. Leadership seems a more important gifting.

But leadership is just one of the spiritual gifts mentioned in Romans 12 and I Corinthians 12. It is not given special prominence in the Bible; in fact, leadership falls under the principle that “the last shall be first, and the first shall be last.” Certainly, Jesus said that leaders shouldn’t “lord it over people” but should be “servant of all.” So where do we get the idea that leaders should be rewarded disproportionately to other gift-holders?

Let me offer a biblical perspective on leadership from Fast Company magazine. Yes, you read that right. Fast Company. Author Nancy Lubin offers this zinger in the midst of her article, “Do Something: Let’s Hear it for the Little Guys”:

The working world would be a happier place if more of us aspired to roles that were just right — if we valued job fit and performance at every level and stopped overemphasizing the very top.

Lubin says we should honor chief operating officers, midlevel managers and staffers. She would probably add career placement people, whose job it is to get staff into the right positions. So, let’s hear it for the followers!

I think Lubin has a little prophet in her:

The underappreciation of followers has a major bottom-line consequence: crazy redundancy. You can see it in the not-for-profit sector, which has a gazillion little organizations replicating one another. We all want to run our own thing, so not-for-profits never die. As a result, we have huge inefficiency and ridiculous amounts of overlap in the sector. This is wasteful, and this is fundamentally bad business.

When you consider Christian non-profits, it also reflects a lack of unity. Considering that Christ said the world would know we are Christians if we’re unified, Lubin’s statement is a complete indictment of Christian leadership. So, a failure to understand that the Holy Spirit has empowered all believers leads to a misunderstanding of the importance of followers. Bad theology leads to misprioritized values, pride, redundancy and waste, not to mention derailing our witness.

One of my readers posted this video on Facebook. It’s a fun example of some great leadership principles.

What are the implications of the fact that God sent Jesus into the world to redeem us? First, it speaks to our worth. The God who created us in his image felt that we were worth redeeming. He died for our sins, instead of us, to reconcile us to God and to each other. None of us will ever understand that sacrifice by a holy God. So, we are valuable. Remember that as we consider this next part.

Second, according to James Plueddemann, because we are all broken and sinful, “all the problems in the world are directly or indirectly caused by sin.” Poverty, war, greed, injustice, illness and tragedies of every kind stem from a broken creation spoiled by sin. Therefore, government or business solutions are like applying a topical cream to treat cancer.

Jesus is the only solution to the sin problem… so the most competent leader in the world cannot solve any major problem without the gospel of Jesus.

The gospel alone — God rescuing us from our brokenness — is the answer for the deepest needs of humans and creation as a whole.

Third, Plueddemann adds, “the goal of leadership is to point people to Jesus.” Rather than work independently, we realize we are branches on a vine, and we can do nothing without him (John 15). Rather than draw attention to ourselves, we realize we are nothing without him. Our goal is to co-lead with him, if you will, pointing to him as the solution and primary source of any gifts and ability we have or success we enjoy.

Fourth, leaders have a model for their own leadership style. Jesus is the ideal leader who modeled servant leadership, an “astounding and universally countercultural” concept. Mark 10:45 lays out the standard for our leadership practice:

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.

So, a failure to understand what Jesus did for us leads to the misunderstanding that we are something on our own and down the ugly road of pride. This sure isn’t a feel-good post. I feel really small. Thank God that the gospel doesn’t end with how bad we are. It’s worth reading the first paragraph again.